Despite being in the country’s most productive agricultural region, communities in the San Joaquin Valley experience very high rates of poverty and unemployment and too often lack access to healthy foods. Though small-scale food entrepreneurship is rare in the area, those who are trying to start or expand a business face difficulty in complying with State and Federal food safety regulations that often require use of a licensed commercial kitchen facility. Because very few can afford to rent or own a licensed commercial kitchen, obtaining access to an affordable facility can be critically important for successfully launching or expanding a food-related business. Even with these challenges, food entrepreneurship offers a path to improving financial success that will benefit individuals, families, and communities.

The Clovis Culinary Center (CCC) is tackling this challenge through partnership and innovation. Established in 2014 in Clovis, a community adjacent to Fresno, CCC is developing a licensed commercial kitchen to provide a food preparation facility for local entrepreneurs seeking to start or expand a food-related small business. With support from the Clovis city government, the Clovis Veterans Memorial District, the California FreshWorks Fund, the USDA and NCCLF, CCC will also provide a food-related small business training program to enable entrepreneurs to research new products, develop and expand marketing strategies, and receive financial management advice to help, start and expand their businesses. Though similar facilities exist throughout the country and state, CCC will be one of the first of its kind in the San Joaquin Valley that will support emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses.

“CCC is in Clovis but will serve the greater region. This area is filled with many small, rural towns with low-income, immigrant populations that don’t have access to a space like this,” said Shawn Miller, City of Clovis’s Business Development Manager.

To help attract low-income residents to join CCC and start or expand a food-related business, the City of Clovis has committed $80,000 of funding towards free or reduced-cost memberships for its low-income residents during CCC’s first year of operation.

“We know this model has the power to create successful small business and increase incomes,” said Dan McDonald, NCCLF’s Deputy Director of Lending. “This commercial kitchen will create jobs and support local farms in the San Joaquin Valley.”

The Clovis Veteran’s Memorial District is providing the space for the 5,000 square foot facility in Old Town Clovis as well as very substantial financial support to build out the kitchen and entrepreneurship center as a way to assist area veterans to gain to the access CCC through free or reduced-cost memberships.

“Folks might have the idea that they want to start or grow a food business, but don’t know where to start. This will mean a lot to the community as it will spur local economic activity,” said Miller. “This is truly innovative for the area.”

In August 2016 CCC’s Board of Directors announced that the hiring of its first employee, Chef Don Waddell to manage CCC’s development, and day-to-day operations of this unique community nonprofit.

In 2016 NCCLF became the Program Administrator of the California FreshWorks Fund. CCC received a grant from the Fund in 2015.